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'Frontline: The Quake' visits devastated Haiti

Thito, an public employee, works on the demolition

Thito, an public employee, works on the demolition of a collapsed building in the Pacot neighborhood, Port-au-Prince, Saturday, March 27, 2010. Some 1.3 million people lost their homes in the Jan. 12 quake that killed and injured thousands, leaving more than a million people living in makeshift camps. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz) Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jorge Saenz

THE SHOW "Frontline: The Quake"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday at 9 p.m. on WNET/13

REASON TO WATCH Full look at the earthquake in Haiti, plus an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "Frontline's" Martin Smith traveled with a crew to Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake to discover what other reporters had - a devastated capital, where one in 10 had died (roughly 230,000 to 250,000 people) with an entire infrastructure wiped out.

Smith wanders streets without names or identifiable landmarks, while survivors congregate in tent cities. There is no food or water, and when aid begins to trickle in, even the United Nations fails to supervise its dispersal adequately. Its headquarters has been wiped out, and the UN doesn't want to be the traffic cop.

The disaster just gets worse because no one else wants to be the traffic cop, either. Smith looks for some government official to interview, and finally locates Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who admits, "I'm pretty amazed the anger [of Haitians] is not greater" at the government's nonresponse.

MY SAY "Frontline" goes in search of a story and finds . . . rubble, chaos, horror and absolutely nothing that seems to make sense. Understandably, the program is almost overwhelmed by the devastation, and only after stepping back do certain themes come into focus. The quake laid bare the inadequacies of an already failed state - especially an ineffectual government that hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) bypass entirely to get aid to the people.

Yet, here is the rub. Those NGOs can't rebuild the country, nor can the United States. Smith presses Clinton, who says the United States won't go solo here and that "countries from France to Canada to Brazil to Japan [will say], 'We all play a role.' " But what, exactly, is that role? And should those vital NGOs - there are more here per capita than in any other country - be bypassed or enlisted? And what of the virtually nonexistent Haitian government? Who will rebuild that?

BOTTOM LINE As always, Smith and "Frontline" do a fine job, but tomorrow's program ends just as the most important story begins - that rebuilding effort, and how decisions will be forged to avert further disaster. At least the questions are asked.



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